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Interview Slobodna Dalmacija with Vanessa Ast: "The German left everything behind and decided to teach people in Dalmatia how to live happily. The secret lies in one word …"

Translation from the Croatian article by Frano Kiso:

Since Croatia joined the European Union, we have seen the migration of workers to richer European countries, but we have come across an immigrant who has gone the other way and moved from Germany to Croatia! Vanessa Ast really is a special woman, and you realize that immediately when you talk to her for a few minutes.

Like a true naturalized Dalmatian, she sat on the terrace of the café and enjoyed the warm rays of sunshine in the middle of winter, something many in Europe can only dream of. "Look around, this is incredible" - said Vanessa with infectious enthusiasm, and we immediately realized that we were actually colleagues, as she used to be a journalist in her home country. She wrote for newspapers and worked for television, which enabled her to report from different parts of the world and travel a lot. With her emigration, she sealed her love for Dalmatia, which was born almost 30 years ago.

"A friend from school is Dalmatian and she had a big influence on me coming here. When I was 17 years old, I came to the Primošten area with her for the first time and I immediately felt a special connection," says the German and says that her relationship with Dalmatia is, in a way, a love story. They fell in love at first sight and have not stopped loving each other to this day.

"Although I have traveled to many parts of the world, something has always tied me to this corner of the world, where I have also made wonderful friends. Dalmatia has been patiently waiting for me for 20 years, and when people ask me why I chose this particular place, I always tell them that it is my heart's home, where I feel very much at home. I love the nature here and the sea, I'm your mermaid," she joked.


Heaven on earth

Vanessa's first steps towards immigration took place in 2021 during the COVID pandemic, when everyone was working from home anyway, and so she also decided to work in what she says is the most beautiful region in the world. Sea, beaches, peace and quiet - she found all the ingredients for a good life there, and she gave herself a year to see if this experiment would work. She started working on the immigration bureaucracy, quickly got organized and eventually moved to Čiovo near Trogir.

"I left everything behind and opened my Croatian company here last year. It was very important to me to work with the local population, to be part of the community and to create something for them," says the immigrant, who doesn't really miss Germany. And when she longs for her family and friends, the airport is close by, and the flight to her home city of Stuttgart takes less time than many a traffic jam in the middle of the summer season.

When asked if she wants to stay here for the rest of her life, she replies that she moved here with serious intentions and that she sees herself in Croatia for the long term, but you never know what life will bring you: "This big step requires a lot of strength, courage and energy, especially when you don't speak the language yet and are starting a new business. I always say that Europe is like a big living room and you don't have to make a final decision on whether you want to stay in one place your whole life."

We also discussed the cost of living, which she says is difficult to compare. You can earn more in Germany, but the costs are also much higher. "Everywhere, people struggle in their own way, regardless of where they live and how well educated they are. I know Americans who live here on an American salary, and that's a completely different story, because everything is much cheaper for them," she says.


Tourist problems

She chose Čiovo because on the one hand there is peace and quiet on the island, beautiful beaches and nature, and right next to it a small town full of life, culture and interesting things to do. This brings with it a few problems, such as an excessive number of tourists who create unbearable crowds in the summer months. "I am not surprised that Split has decided to punish foreigners who make a mess in the city, because the situation is getting worse every year. Young tourists just destroy everything around them. But I'm glad that at least the locals can earn something from tourism," says Vanessa and mentions another problem: "On Čiovo, there is a lot of noise from planes landing at the nearby airport during the high season. In summer, there is a constant hum overhead and you have to get used to it. But these are minor things and I don't get too upset. No matter where you live, there's always something that bothers you or doesn't suit you, it's important to find a compromise", - our interlocutor is reasonable.


Trogir's Schatzi

And as far as integration into local society is concerned, it went smoothly and without any problems. Vanessa says that the people in Trogir already know her very well and she regularly meets up with locals who have found a suitable nickname for her. "Schatzi, Schatzi," they call out to her in the street in a friendly manner. "It was very important for me to adapt and fit into this community. I try to use the Croatian language as much as possible and many people think I'm Croatian and are surprised at how well I speak," she tells us and immediately goes on to enthusiastically describe how wonderful this country and its people really are.

"I live in a place where I've always wanted to live, and that's a real privilege. When I wake up in the morning, I hear seagulls, smell the sea, meet friendly people. These little moments are precious. I have a place for my morning, afternoon and evening coffee. Priceless," she says enthusiastically.

In order not to give the impression that everything was so perfect, she told us that her most negative experience in Croatia last year was when the car rental company "Vintax" did not return her deposit of 800 euros, which we even wrote about in Slobodna Dalmacija, whereupon the injured parties got their money back.


A life around 'pomalo'

We have also absorbed a little of the philosophy of life around which she has built her business, and that is - pomalo! It's in things big and small, and a good example of this is our love of music, how we all sing and live the Dalmatian script, which is therapy and medicine for us.

"Pomalo is not just lazing around with coffee, it is much more than that, and I have studied this philosophy of life in depth. I have researched what exactly is the formula for happiness and a fulfilled life, and the Dalmatian formula is very close to the solution. To be clear: I'm not talking about the whole of Croatia, because in the northern part of the country life is just as fast-paced and stressful as in the rest of Europe. It's mainly about Dalmatians, who are specialists in enjoying the moment," says the German, who is also fascinated by another phenomenon of ours. "When you're sitting in a café, the people around you are talking very loudly on their cell phone speakers and nobody cares who hears what. I find that absolutely incredible, even funny in a way. But that also describes you Dalmatians," she tells us with a laugh.

Vanessa has been running her own communication and coaching business for 15 years, where she teaches people about stress management, mental health, mindfulness and mental processes in certain moments. She works in the private and business sectors with various groups of people, sensitizing them with special methods and supporting them in coping with today's hectic life.

"I help employees and managers to regain their inner focus. The human mind is always chaotic, critical and full of all kinds of thoughts, so it's difficult to concentrate on the important things. People also turn to me when they are in the process of changing their lives, when they are asking themselves big questions or are experiencing difficulties of all kinds," explains the life coach and wellbeing expert. She adds that it's all about living in the moment to find calm, clarity and focus.


The place of the happy moment

"My solution is "Pomalo" and a holistic approach to life. Clients come to Čiovo, where a special program with a well-thought-out strategy and a clear goal awaits them in beautiful nature. Foreigners who do not live here experience during the Retreats a particularly profound change when they accept some principles of life that are completely normal for us Dalmatians. From family and friendly relationships to living in nature and singing in absolute joy," says the immigrant, adding that we Croats also need some help and guidance.

"You have to get back to the true principle of "Pomalo", because the tourist season brings a lot of work, nervousness and stress due to the crowds. I have heard a lot of grumbling and complaining from the locals, but we have to accept that even in our Dalmatian paradise there are storms and difficulties from time to time," she concludes with a smile.

In Trogir, the Benedictine nunnery houses the Kairos art collection. And who was Kairos? The youngest son of Zeus, best known as the god of the happy moment. Not the god of happiness, but the god of the happy moment. In a poetic way, Vanessa realized that this could be the perfect place to raise awareness, to find oneself in the moment and to realize that happiness is a choice, that we can only achieve it if we shake ourselves up and decide to live again - pomalo.

Article originally published in Slobodna Dalmacija. Photo: Vojko Basic/Cropix.



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